TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — One of two Cuba protesters believed to be the first people arrested under the state’s new anti-riot law spoke with News Channel 8 after being released from jail Thursday night.
Police said they arrested Julian Rodriguez-Rodriguez and Maikel Vazquez-Pico when a protest spilled onto a Interstate 275 exit ramp in Tampa on Tuesday.
The men were arrested for obstructing street or sidewalks during a protests, a violation of HB 1, the state’s new anti-riot law. They also face charges of battery on a law enforcement officer and resisting arrest. Both deny the accusations against them.
The men claim they rushed onto the ramp to help another man who had been stunned by a taser before they became involved in the altercation that led to their arrest.
“This guy was electrocuting. I’ve never seen that in my life,” Rodriguez-Rodriguez recalled after his release from jail. “I’ve got to stop this. He’s going to die.”
According to the arrest report, Rodriguez-Rodriguez put an officer into a bear hug and punched an officer in the face, breaking his glasses.
Victor Zamora, an attorney for the men, argues they should be charged for violating a city ordinance instead of HB 1.
“If you look at the CRA [Criminal Report Affidavit], it only cites a Tampa municipal violation 14-41,” the attorney, Victor Zamora said. “The statutes don’t add up. That violation of municipal ordinance does not trigger that anti-riot law hold. And in my opinion, they shouldn’t even have been held without bond.”
The “Combating Public Disorder Act,” HB 1, states a person shall be cited for a pedestrian violation if they “willfully obstruct the free, convenient, and normal use of a public street, highway or road.”
Rodriguez-Rodriguez says his arrest is unfair because protesters had blocked off a highway in Miami earlier this week, but none were arrested.
Cuba is seeing its biggest antigovernmental protests in decades with thousands demanding freedom and protesting food and vaccine shortages. Thousands of people have taken to the streets in Tampa Bay in solidarity.
More rallies are scheduled in Tampa Bay Friday and Saturday. There’s a protest at 6 p.m. Friday night in St. Petersburg at the corner of 30th Avenue N. and 34 Street North, and another rally at Tampa’s Al Lopez Park scheduled for 10 a.m. Saturday.